Sunday, February 26, 2017

Definition of perfection

I thought I knew my type.  But then again, most people think they know their type, but it's often the one they overlook that changes everything.  I wanted to overlook Theo, he wasn't my type.  That's what I thought, anyway.  Even when I leased him, even when I bought him, I had it in my head that he was the exception.  I bought him despite himself, in a way.  He wasn't really what I wanted, but I didn't want to share him.  But when cantering mi papi around completely on the buckle this weekend, I couldn't help but declare 'I love this damn horse'.  To which Trainer A said 'he's amazing'.

Not for the reasons I thought I prized and not for the reasons most trainers list for their mounts.  His movement is average at best and he's pretty inflexible through his whole body.  He's prized because he's innately chill.  Even when I can feel the buzz of excess energy running through his body, that electric, popping feeling that most riders are familiar with when the horse's skin shivers and moves when you touch them, I can drop the reins and have him stretch and walk.  He was hot all weekend, eager to move out and looking to burn off that electric feeling.  I had a hard time finding the bottom of it.  He barged through my hands at the trot, picking up the canter and threatening to bolt.  But when I dropped the contact, his head went to his knees.  Trainer A prizes him because my lessons are reliably productive and enjoyable.

He's the only horse in the lesson program with that reaction to life.  Little Girl popped a full blown capriole in our last lesson, leaving Trainer A a bit pale.  I hung on to papi's mane and practiced my breathing while he napped.  I put my friend on him to practice her canter and jumping because, in the ring, there is no safer horse in the barn.  When did I start to prize this?  When did that feeling of safety become the most important feature?

Have I been a secret draft cross fan girl this whole time?

At Trainer A's insistence, I'm branching out to other horses again.  I'm fit enough and in practice enough that things like bucking and barging don't bother me anymore.  I'm a gutsy rider, I think the temper tantrums most horses toss at me are cute more than anything.  I've ridden the Hellbeast at his worst and after Fiona?  A below average moving pony having a temper tantrum isn't a problem.  This is the part I can't wrap my head around.  If Baby Pony's bolting and Juicebox's broncing make me giggle, why do I need my completely chill horse to really relax?  Am I secretly a coward?

I don't think I am.  When papi has his moments, you still need to be a gutsy rider to handle it.  When I take him out to the Ritz for that first time this spring, I'll be wearing my cross country vest and probably have him in a wonder bit for some extra leverage.  He's got a big buck in him and I've made him very strong.

Maybe I'm just coming to terms with the fact that I'm not a professional and I'll never be one again.  I'm not riding to win the Olympics or compete at Grand Prix.  I'm an ammy adult.  I miss nights of riding due to meetings.  Some days I just want to go hack on trails or chase a soccer ball. 

 I'm competitive, but I'm coming to terms with the fact that I'll be in the low to mid levels forever.  With that realization comes the fact that I don't need a talented horse.  I need an enjoyable horse.  I need a horse that will forgive me for missing a day and will go for a long walk down a trail without missing a beat.  I'll never score a 70%, but I'll make kids giggle by riding backwards on my horse.

Yeah, I did that.  Theo was amused.  His girl is weird, but she has cookies.

I can't decide if my tastes have changed or if I'm more in touch with what I've really wanted all this time.  I could go either way.  While I'm adding naughty ponies to my dance card to keep me in practice, my partner has become a refuge.  I feel safe on him.  Not because he's predictable, but because he's inherently lazy.  While I can power him up, he will always stop if given a chance.  And if I want to be lazy, that's always an option with him.  It's been a long, long time since I partnered with a horse where I could be lazy.

Who knew laziness could be perfection?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Seeing spots

A school horse with a twisted shoe led to me having a happy reunion tonight.  Baby pony!

My friend's chosen mount was out due to his footwear problem, so I gave her Theo and I stole the baby pony from one of the teens.  He's gotten so big, all the way up to five years old now.  He's filled out a lot and I no longer feel like I might capsize him.  His head tossing temper tantrums from the summer have also abated, at least for riders that know what to do with their hands.  His questionable brakes have him in a slow twist, but I somehow doubt he'll need that once he's done being a teenager.

We spent a good ten minutes discussing the fact he should stop and stand with a minimal request from me.  Once we had that, we started trotting.  I had to keep my inside leg on until he quit flailing at it and collapsing in on the circle.  Once that happened, he magically dropped down and stretched out his neck instead of bracing and holding his head up like a giraffe.  These poor ponies, all so shocked to discover I'm not easily intimidated.  Flail all you want, once you're tired, we'll do it the right way.

We did figure eights with him stretched out, transitioning between walk and trot like a gentlemen.  He's a horse that takes very well to positive chatter.  When I made a big fuss over him, patting him with both hands and loving on him, it really locked a behavior in.  There was licking and chewing once he figured out he could chew the reins out of my hands.

He's finally cantering in lessons, though it's still a bit wild.  His barrel racer roots like to come up when the speed turns on.  He tends to anticipate, rush, and generally flail about at the canter.  We got good work in both directions.  I've been doing this long enough that I could get the leads on the first try, control his shoulders enough to keep him from diving around, and control the tempo while letting him have his neck.  It wasn't easy, far from it, but Trainer A was very happy to see him cantering around in a calm way.  He doesn't get a lot of practice cantering with experienced hands.

She also said she was happy to see me on another horse again.  I suspect Wednesdays are going to become the night where I play the pony parade game.  It's good for me, but ugh, I hate using school tack.  That saddle was horrible!  And those web reins, how does anyone work with those?  I wonder if my saddle would fit on the baby pony . . .

Monday, February 20, 2017

Show off

I have a vice.  I'm sure it's one I share with a lot of people, but it's a bit of a problem because I share it with my horse.  We like to show off.

Who, me?

Saturday night I had a party (omg non-horse social life) so I had to ride early in the day.  I usually avoid this because there are a lot of lessons running on Saturday mornings, but I certainly wasn't going to give papi the day off after just getting him going again.  Due to helping some of the young and clueless in the barn, I ended up riding right in the highest traffic.  Four of the more advanced teenagers have a lesson together at 11am.  I mounted at 10:40am.  Timing, I do not have it.  I dodged nervous beginners and lunge line lessons for twenty minutes, then started doing my canter work while the teens were mounting and walking about.  It was the one break in the morning where I would have some room to work.

Theo wasn't paying enough attention in the chaos so I had him walk.  Didn't like the transition, so went back to canter and back down to walk.  Oh, nice, let's do that the other way.  Hm, traffic, might as well do a 10m circle and get him really sitting.  Canter canter canter walk.  Good boy!  And then I was just showing off.  Little canter leg yield to let someone pass, roll back style turn to change direction, a little counter canter, a flying change, you know.  Whatever.

Trainer A was giving me the eye so I settled down when the class got rolling.  But hey, it's fun to show off all of the things Theo has learned that none of the youngsters ever see.  It doesn't help that the sudden increase in traffic (and two, count 'em, two mares including Miss Thang) had a certain someone arching his neck and in full stud mode.  I had to keep him under wraps so he didn't upset any of the other horses.  Energy levels were high and there was some bucking and running about in the lesson without any help from me.  So I dropped my stirrups and went back to trotting.  Because, yes, showing off is a terrible vice and I posted trot with no stirrups just to show I could to a bunch of girls half my age.  Nope, not proud. 

I know the teens pretty well so when they started jumping, I parked Theo and spectated.  It was a great lesson for him to learn to deal with horses in his personal bubble.  He had horses jumping and cantering straight at him and he had to stand.  He occasionally pinned his ears, but generally ignored them and proceeded to nap.  Complete with a resting hind foot.

And when they were done?  It was Theo's turn.  We only jumped for about two minutes, but I couldn't deny him.  After watching everyone else go, I picked up his reins and he started trotting.  Clearly it was his turn.  So we cantered and popped over the bending lines, no problem, nailed our leads.  Because nothing says mature adult like showing off over 18" cross rails.

I need to work on this.

Friday, February 17, 2017


I saw my pony!  And we did more than walk and shiver!  He didn't even threaten to double barrel me when I took off his blankets!

Mother Nature cooperated and it was 36* out for my lesson.  Oh, sweet bliss.  I rode without my winter coat!  I pulled off his heavy and he was happy to have it off.  I took the time to give him a good curry with the cooler folded back over his butt and he zoned out.  He was so happy.  So many itchy spots under his armor.

He's learned to deal with having his belly curried with minimal temper tantrums and today, he seemed to genuinely enjoy it.  He started biting his cross ties again last month, so I put him on a daily supplement to manage his tummy.  Two weeks in and the Smart Gut Ultra pellets seem to be doing the trick.  He's nice and chill on the cross ties and hasn't lunged around while his girth is tightened.  While his ulcers were treated for a month solid, he started to have off days again in January.  I'm suspecting that the pop rocks didn't dose him consistently so he was treated enough for symptoms to abate, but didn't completely heal.  The supp seems to be handling the problem and for now, fine.  I've got it in the back of my head that I need to do a month of paste treatments to make sure he gets every bit of medicine.  He has this annoying habit of flinging feed when he gets carried away.  But for today, the alfalfa in every feeding and the supp has him happy and comfortable.

On Tuesday, we jumpa da jumps.  After a week of very sketchy work and a sudden jump in temps, Theo was puffing and not pushing off evenly behind.  His weak right hind put in an appearance.  I joked that he was sore from all the walking in the snow, but I might not be far off.  He was, for lack of a less anthropomorphic term,  relieved to be back in work.  Trainer A noted that he never stopped licking and chewing throughout the entire ride.  I took my time warming him up and we took a lot of breaks so I don't have a stiff, sore horse for my next ride.  He was very willing through the low, gentle bounces, but when given a break, he'd huff.  Little Girl was huffing, too.  Trainer A shook her head.  Two of her fittest, best conditioned horses were huffing halfway through their gentle lesson.  It's amazing how quickly we can lose condition.  Theo went from sitting on the bit, begging for more to dragging and asking for a break in a week.  Sure, he picked up every time Trainer A reset the jumps or I asked for it, but he was quick to drop the bridle and just sink into the footing.

Wednesday was better.  We worked on trot poles and lengthening his stride.  Combined with some stretching and laterals, he's starting to sit on that right again.  Amazing how quickly he gets sticky back there.  Not lame, but just stiff. 

Today I'm planning to cut out earlyto visit the pony and it's a three day weekend with reasonable weather!  We'll see 50* tomorrow!  I might even take him out on a trail for some variety.  The name of the game now is to keep him in consistent work so we can regain lost ground.  I got my new Janet Foy book and it's great, I'll do a real review soon.  But let's just say papi is in for some new forms of torture.

Hear that, Mother Nature?  I've got stuff to do!  Leave us alone!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Cabin Fever

I'm still inside and it's making me crazy.  The good news is that we only got a foot of snow last night.  The bad news is that the wind is gusting hard enough to make the blowing snow dance all about.  It's pushing ground blizzard levels out here as we gust into the 40 - 50 mph zone.  The snow we got was very fluffy so it's drifting all about.

I am so sick of being in the house.  So how do we cope with these situations?

I bought a new dressage coat!

The RJ Classics Soft Shell Piaffe Frock in navy.  This makes me very happy.  I've been eyeballing this coat for awhile since I love my RJ coats.  I have a frock from them in black and when I saw this in navy, in my size (12 Short), and on clearance for $118 at Smartpak?  It magically appeared in my cart.  Amazing how that happens.  I'm so excited to have my navy coat to go with my navy show bow.  Now I need a navy browband.  PS of Sweden has the exact one I need, navy pearls and clear rhinestones.  And I think a baby blue stock tie.  And a baby pink stock tie to go with my black coat, since I have a pink show bow and a pink browband . . .

But that will have to wait.  I just bought a new coat and his winter shoes are due this week.  Not cheap.  I can use my existing browbands, new bling isn't on the need list.  New bling won't help if my leg yields are still prone to collapsing.  Instead, I got something to help us actually perform. 

My judge crush continues.  I love this woman and reading a book written by her that focuses on making opinionated, less than perfect horses into dressage ponies?  Sign me up!  Might as well do something with my abundant indoors free time.  The reviews are excellent and I'm looking forward to a new read.

Also, I cannot emphasize enough how much I love my Dublin River boots.

I got for when it's muddy out and for walking cross country (ha!).  This winter I discovered that they are amazing in snow.  Last winter was really mild, so this winter they were really put to the test.  As I was wading through snow up to my knees yesterday, feeding the chickens, my feet stayed bone dry and toasty with a pair of wool socks.  I've slopped through every combination of slush/mud/water/slop known to man with our crazy weather and my feet stay dry.  I even ride in them on the days when it's too cold for my riding boots where I can't fit my thick socks.  I wear them into town with a pair of dark jeans and people think they're cute.  Slap on a set of ice cleats and these have served me through an entire day of outdoor barn chores, in the melting snow, including chasing my idiot horse as he decides playing tag is more fun than working in the sand box.

Really, if you live in an area prone to lots of snow with lots of melt, consider a pair.  Lifesavers this winter and especially through these last two storms.

As for Theo?  For Facebook users, here's a little clip of his pasture's situation.  Snow up to his chest in spots.  It's kind of like water training, right?  Lots of resistance meaning that he's going to stay fit just walking around his pasture.  At least that's what I'm hoping for.  Tomorrow's weather is supposed to be agreeable and I should be able to ride in my usual lesson.  And then rush home, shower, and go out for Valentine's Day.  Because that is how horse girls do romance.  You know we really care when we shower before showing up at a fancy bistro for a date.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


We're over achievers here in New Hampshire.  A foot of snow?  No, that won't do.  How about a foot and a half?  Much better!

So we got a whole bunch of snow and now we've got warnings up for another 12" - 18" tomorrow.  And another 5" - 8" on Wednesday.  It appears that all of winter decided to arrive in one week.  I managed to get in the saddle today for about 30 minutes, but it was mostly walking around since the temps were in the teens and the wind chill was worse.  Tomorrow?  Depends on when the snow arrives.  I'll try to see him, but if the snow if flying, it won't happen.

Mother Nature is being very cruel.

So I'm killing time looking up all of the shows I could do next year.  No better way to spend a February than to put together a show schedule!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Horse? What horse?

Poor papi.  We're having one of those weeks.

Saturday we had a jump lesson with my friend where Juicebox decided he needed to be a ridiculous little appy pony and we traded mounts.  She had a wonderful return to jumping with Theo's steady, straight forward style while I handled the pony that was clearly at his wits end with being told to go slow.  After we worked through the fact that I thought his temper tantrums were cute, not scary,  and would not make me take my leg off, we cantered around and jumped nicely.  It was a lot of fun and a serious change of pace for both of us.  So tiny!  I got ahead of him to one jump because I thought it was time to launch and he had a whole other step to put in.  Trainer A cracked up.  But no real time with papi, I handed him over within five minutes of the start of the lesson when Juicebox started bucking and trying to bolt.

I need a new picture of Juicebox

Sunday I ran a 5k.  I visited to swap his blankets, give him a kiss and a cookie, then send him back out to his field.

Pretty much the situation every day, all winter

Monday is his day with Trainer A.  She worked his canter - walk transition and is happy with his progress.  He knows what we want now, so she can start working on it going canter canter canter walk instead of canter canter canter fall on face walk.  For the record, I'm still firmly in the fall on face phase so I'm glad she's getting some real transitions.

Tuesday we had freezing rain and I couldn't get to the main road.  I texted Trainer A and missed another day with mi papi.

I saw him on Wednesday!  We had a nice lesson working on turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, and our walk - canter - walk transitions.  After such hit and miss work he was tense in his poll but otherwise a role model of agreeable behavior.  Except when the smoke was coming out of his ears because we made him turn on the forehand while stretching his neck down, but he didn't offer to toss me so that's a good night.

Today?  12" of snow and a snow emergency.  Not going anywhere.

And so it begins

Tomorrow?  Not sure yet.  Depends on the temperature plunge.  If it's single digits, he'll be bumming around for another day.  Can't do much more than walk in that nonsense.  But the boss is out on Friday and my calendar is clear so I may try to sneak out in the afternoon and ride while I've got the chance. 

Because this is my forecast.

Winter is going out with a bang!  Damn it.